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So Alive it Hurts
On loving ourselves: moving from acceptance to appreciation
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I looked down at myself sitting in the rocking chair on my front porch the other day and thought, what a cute little round belly! And the thought surprised me. Because I hadn’t been loving my belly until then, despite my best efforts. I’d been wishing her away. I’d been wishing me away. But this soft round belly bears the stretch marks from my babies, those I brought into the world, and those I couldn’t. Two pencil-line scars mark where my boys were helped into the world by the surgeons that saved them and me during childbirth. Why wouldn’t I love her? Why wouldn’t I love me?
The day after I had this realization, I went hiking with my friend Amanda on a bright July day in Tennessee. We sweated our way through several sunny miles of trail, and circled a meadow with flowers as high as our heads. Spider webs glistened in the sunlight, perfect patterns spun in nearby trees and across the trail, and bees droned busily from flower to flower. Cicadas buzzed from the nearby forest, completing the soundscape, while butterflies dodged us in their irregular, bouncing flight patterns. We returned to the woods, grateful for the drop in temperature that shade provides, and then descended into a gorge. We hiked up a river for a half a mile or so, the cool water splashing our legs, promising relief with its welcome contrast from the ninety-five degree heat.
Finally we arrived at the waterfall, and I stripped off my shirt without the slightest hesitation and jumped in the deep turquoise water of the pool in my sports bra and hiking shorts and finally felt completely free.
Later sitting in the shallows up to our chins in the cool water, I shared this series of realizations with Amanda, adding that there were plenty of people with bigger bodies than mine even that I saw in two piece swimsuits or crop tops and thought nothing of it, or if I did think about them, it was to think how great they looked.
“So what’s different about you then,” she asked.
And that was just it, it was me. I could accept all the other people having bodies and wanting to swim, but it took me this long to accept myself. But no more. I will never again hesitate to get in the water because someone might see the four inches of stomach between my top and my bottoms. Why would I? Why would I restrict myself in ways I don’t believe restrictions should exist? Everyone has a body, and everyone should be able to enjoy a dip in the cool water on a hot day.
I swam across the pool and sat under the waterfall: her water pounding over the rocks and across my shoulders, feeling so alive it almost hurt.
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“I wish I could still believe in God, but I can’t be a Christian anymore because of ______” Fill-in-the-blank with racism, misogyny, homophobia, toxic capitalism, and so on. I’ve had this conversation with different people almost word-for-word over and over. White American Christianity has so defined God that many people cannot separate God from the toxic theology they were taught.
But this isn’t the God I see in the Bible. The Bible shows us a God meeting people where they are and nudging them towards justice and total thriving for all: shalom. The Bible details arcs of justice and societal reform. If we understand how radical those arcs were in the context of the day, we can extend them forward into the future and figure out how to work for justice, total thriving, and societal reformation in our day.
I grew up in that first world view. Come along, and I’ll tell you the story of how I escaped, and I’ll show you a theology that I believe paints a more accurate picture: a faith for the common good where everyone thrives and no one is left out.
Anna Elisabeth Howard writes highly caffeinated takes on shalom as a lens for everything from her front porch in Hendersonville, TN where she lives with her husband and two sons. She is a community organizer and movement chaplain with a background in youth and family ministry and is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary. An avid hiker and backpacker, many thoughts start somewhere in the middle of the woods, or under a waterfall. She is a regular contributer to Earth & Altar and her latest book is Inward Apocalypse: Uncovering a Faith for the Common Good.
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